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Hunter Biden: I Did Nothing Improper But Had Poor Judgment; Fiona Hill Testifies about 'Wrongdoing' in Ukraine Contacts; Is Ohio Out of Reach for Democrats in 2020?; DNC Chair Tom Perez is Interviewed about Hunter Biden. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- said the four at the bottom?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is not a third-rail issue. They are going to go in on him. This is yet another debate where Joe Biden is open. He's got a wound, and they see the blood.

[07:00:10]

SELLERS: The question -- the question is this. Listen, and I think it's OK for us to be critical of our candidates. It makes us better. Because if you can't handle Angela, Bakari and April, you can't handle Donald Trump.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we are pretty tough, though. We are pretty tough.

SELLERS: But I have one question. Would you have been hired if your last name was not Biden?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And that's -- and that's what -- by the way, in another part of the interview, he addressed that very thing. He says, "I don't know. I don't know. Probably not, but I --"

SELLERS: We have to go to commercial.

CAMEROTA: No, he goes on, "But I don't think there's a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn't Biden."

RYAN: A lot of us have to work hard to get to where we are.

CAMEROTA: His whole life he's been a Biden. In other words he's been privileged because his father has been connected.

SELLERS: Listen, I love it. I love Joe. I love Hunter. I love the family. I love Beau, may he rest in peace. But this is -- this is poor. And the fact that he did an interview on the day of and it's released the day of the debate is just hard.

RYE: Whose idea was this? Like, and there should be some ramifications for whomever suggested this on the campaign.

RYAN: We should find that out.

RYE: A shout-out to Simone, because she probably told him not to.

BERMAN: It's clear to me we've got a lot more to discuss about this. You all are coming back later in the broadcast. So --

RYAN: You want us back?

SELLERS: We're going to get some breakfast. We're going to get some breakfast.

CAMEROTA: All right. We're following big new developments in the impeachment inquiry. NEW DAY continues right now.

All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. Democrats on Capitol Hill moving forward with an impeachment investigation that seems to be widening by the hour. A full week of depositions lies ahead.

Today three congressional committees will hear from George Kent. He's a career foreign service officer and the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine.

That follows ten hours of marathon testimony on Monday from Fiona Hill, the president's former top Russia adviser. She testified she saw wrongdoing in the administration's Ukraine policy and tried to report it to White House lawyers.

CNN has also learned Hill told lawmakers that former national security adviser John Bolton referred to Rudy Giuliani as, quote, "a hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up."

Hill also described a, quote, "rogue operation" carried out by the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, and the White House chief of staff. All of this Bolton characterized as being like a "drug deal."

BERMAN: House Democrats have scheduled a meeting this evening to discuss the impeachment probe while a record 12 members of the party are 300 miles away in Ohio for tonight's big CNN/"New York Times" Democratic debate. This could be the end of the line for some of those Democrats, who are fighting for a chance to stay in the race.

Also, a very big night for Joe Biden. Obviously, his son Hunter just did an interview. We've played a clip for you a moment ago. We'll play more of it later about the situation about his business dealings in Ukraine.

We're going to have much more on the debate in just a moment. We want to start with the latest on the impeachment inquiry.

Joining us now, David Gregory, CNN political analyst; and Margaret Talev, politics and White House editor for Axios and a CNN political analyst. And I just happened to be reading Axios this morning, Margaret. Right.

CAMEROTA: Oh, brownnoser.

BERMAN: The White House -- the White House -- You do what you have to do. The White House is tense, and some aides are frantic as Democrats on Capitol Hill tap a gusher of revelations that paint an increasingly vivid portrait of President Trump's unrestrained conduct of foreign policy.

And we heard from Fiona Hill words like -- and she was quoting John Bolton in some cases -- "hand grenade," "drug deal," "wrongdoing," "going to blow everything up." "Worst nightmare." And this was all describing what she apparently portrayed as the shadow foreign policy that was being conducted by Rudy Giuliani, and reportedly, the suggestion is, is it was for the president's personal political gain.

So as we wake up to this news this morning, Margaret, where does that put this investigation?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: John, Fiona Hill's ten-hour closed-door testimony yesterday is going to be pretty major in terms of its repercussions, because she's not a political appointee in the sense that she's not a partisan, or she's not a Bolton flunky, or she doesn't have an ax to grind left over from the Obama administration or anything like that. This is someone who's dedicated their life to Russia policy and to U.S. national security policy and had a unique bird's-eye view for a wide duration of the administration, ranging from McMaster's time as national security adviser through Bolton's.

And so that -- we know the highlights, the drug dealer comments and all that stuff conveyed about Bolton's concerns, are making the news headlines today, but fill in the gaps here. Ten hours of testimony. There's an enormous amount of back and forth information that was divulged yesterday behind closed doors, and we're just beginning to know it.

[07:05:03]

Meanwhile, my colleague Alayna Treene at Axios reporting overnight about how this investigation is spreading out. The congressional committee is now looking to the Pentagon to pull people in for closed- door depositions or testimony, and looking to the Office of Management and Budget to try to understand the financial connections between that Ukraine money, finances in general from the government, and how U.S. funding was tied to foreign policy requests from this Giuliani, Sondland, et cetera, parallel structure.

CAMEROTA: The more you hear, David, it doesn't seem like the House investigators are just doing subpoena for sport. Every day, new names come up in all of these tentacles. And then suddenly, they scramble, and it seems successfully so thus far, to get information on what that person's thread is.

I'll just pull up what the week ahead looks like. Today is George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state. Tomorrow, very interesting. Michael McKinley. He's the former senior adviser to Secretary Pompeo who resigned abruptly last week. The reporting is he didn't think that Pompeo was speaking out forcefully enough about all of this Ukraine controversy.

Then on Thursday, Gordon Sondland. He, of course, is instrumental, because he's the ambassador to the European Union, and his appearance was canceled last week. The State Department blocked it. And then he was subpoenaed, and he will supposedly be testifying this Thursday. And he seems to be a pivotal liaison to the president and was speaking and coordinating directly with President Trump about how the president wanted all of this framed.

GREGORY: Right, and that's what's important, I think. Out of all these witnesses so far, here's Gordon Sondland, who is a political appointee, not a diplomat, doesn't have expertise and who's dealing directly with the president.

There's the specter of Rudy Giuliani, the role he plays in a kind of shadow foreign policy, but what is the president directing himself? Not only in terms of getting political dirt on Joe Biden but also holding up that Ukraine money, which they're getting testimony on.

Bill Taylor is important, a diplomat who was openly skeptical about the road they were going down in those text messages. So I think this combination of political appointees, as Margaret was saying, and Fiona Hill, others who were career diplomats, these two groups saying this is out of bounds, completely inappropriate, and is the president directing all of this?

You go from the whistle-blower report that talks about all these other people in the White House who were upset about what was going on, and they are filling in those blanks, even if House investigators are not going to get the documentation they would like to see from the administration.

BERMAN: We know the president played some role in all of this. He told the president of Ukraine to talk to Rudy Giuliani and his attorney general, William Barr, about investigating Joe Biden.

So his voice is directly involved here. And I don't want to look past, Margaret, again, just the stunning language, the vivid language used by Fiona Hill to describe Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton using it, too. A hand grenade. A hand grenade that's going to blow everybody up.

CNN was the first to report that Giuliani is under investigation by the Southern District for his role in Ukraine dealings. "The Wall Street Journal" added to that reporting overnight, saying his bank records are under investigation here.

It does seem that there are a lot of questions surrounding Giuliani. And John Bolton --

TALEV: Yes.

BERMAN: -- who's out of a job as national security adviser may have something to say about all of this.

TALEV: Right, and so now, of course, the big political question is, is John Bolton going to be asked to come before those committees, either behind closed doors or in public? And how would the White House respond and how would Bolton respond?

But don't forget also that John Bolton has a book deal. So it's literally all going to be in the book.

So I think the idea that the White House can kind of contain or craft the narration of what actually happened is an idea that's beginning to slip away for them, and -- and it's a real challenge for them in terms of how to move forward.

You can see -- we obtained some of the exchanges between Fiona Hill's legal team and the White House ahead of that testimony. And right up until the last minute, the White House trying to make the case that some of what she might want to be asked about would be covered by privilege, that the impeachment inquiry itself was not an impeachment inquiry, because there wasn't a vote. You've heard that argument before.

So the White House really trying to figure out, like, how to try to contain what happens when current or formers are asked to appear, and so it's not really a matter of is it their choice to appear. They're now being asked to appear. And there could be legal repercussions if they don't. Their business could be affected in the case of someone like a hotelier, Gordon Sondland.

And so either a desire on their part to testify if they're asked, or a feeling that they have no choice but to do it. For the White House it's going to become increasingly complicated to kind of put the horse back in the barn here.

[07:10:00]

GREGORY: Also, one point about the debate tonight on CNN that, I think, relates to all of this is the extent to which other Democrats, in addition to the moderators, pressure Biden on these questions about Ukraine, especially with Hunter Biden going out doing a television interview, saying it was poor judgment to serve on the board of that company in Ukraine.

The president and his allies are making this a process fight right now, and how the Democrats are doing what they're doing. No one's really defending the president, other than saying he shouldn't be impeached over this.

Is there anything that comes out of tonight that helps them make a claim that, hey, part of what should be looked at here is Biden's role in all this?

CAMEROTA: We have that new Hunter Biden sound. He just spoke out about this after silence for weeks. So here is Hunter Biden explaining why he made those choices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTER BIDEN, SON OF JOE BIDEN: No, in retrospect, look, I think that it was poor judgment on my part is that I think that it was poor judgment because I don't believe now, when I look back on it -- I know that I did nothing wrong at all. However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is a -- it's a swamp in many ways? Yes. And so I take -- I take full responsibility for that. Do I -- did I do anything improper? No, not in any way, not in any way whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Margaret, how does that play out tonight?

TALEV: Well, I think the Democrats on the stage have a choice, which is do they keep the criticism on President Trump, or do they turn the criticism on one of their own rivals, either -- both either because they think it's a legitimate inquiry or because they're trying to get some oxygen here?

The effect of all of this attention on the inquiry, one of the downstream effects has been that, if you're not Joe Biden or Elizabet Warren, good luck breaking through.

And these people are competing for relevance, for positioning in this crowded race, for money from donors who don't understand why they're not hearing anything about their candidates.

And so I think there are questions about whether Hunter Biden is serious enough baggage on Joe Biden's candidacy that it would hinder him as a general election candidate. The question is, in this debate tonight, are his rivals going to feel that they should go full-bore after that, or that that is taking the heat off of President Trump and that it's more important to keep the focus on the president? And I think we'll see it's going to be a big element in tonight's debate.

CAMEROTA: Margaret, David, thank you very much for helping us preview that, as well as all of the impeachment news. Thank you.

So just hours from now, 12 Democratic presidential candidates will hit the debate stage right here on CNN. After losing Ohio in 2016, can Democrats flip that state back to blue in 2020?

Well, CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in the debate hall in Westerville, Ohio. What's the answer, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alisyn, good morning.

You're right. Ohio has been the mother of all battlegrounds, at least for more than a half century. John F. Kennedy was the last Democrat to win the White House without winning Ohio.

But some Democrats after Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016 are wondering if this state is still winnable. The answer may lie in the suburbs right here around Westerville.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Ohio. We love you, Ohio.

ZELENY (voice-over): And Ohio loved President Trump back. His 2016 victory so convincing it begs the question of whether Ohio has lost its lure as a pivotal battleground.

This week, as Democratic presidential candidates descend on the state for their next debate, all eyes are on Ohio, but will they be by election day?

NAN WHALEY (D), MAYOR OF DAYTON: Why would you abdicate Ohio so quickly to Donald Trump?

ZELENY: Nan Whaley is the Democratic mayor of Dayton. She says voters should hold President Trump accountable for his trade policy, promises to restore manufacturing jobs, and so far not acting on guns, a key issue here after a mass shooting killed nine people and injured 27.

WHALEY: I almost feel like Hillary's loss awakened a group of people that were not interested or willing to do the work of politics that are now completely fixated, because they know what's at stake here in 2020.

ZELENY: She's talking about women like Stephanie Pyser, Tiffany Roberts and Lisa Ludwig. Shell-shocked by Trump's victory, they formed a group in the Columbus suburbs called Positively Blue.

STEPHANIE PYSER, OHIO VOTER: This neighborhood tends to be a little more Republican, and that was kind of the reason that we started Positively Blue, because we didn't have anybody to talk about to.

ZELENY: They're motivated by by a sense of obligation and perhaps feelings of guilt.

LISA LUDWIG, OHIO VOTER: Like, I wish I would have been more involved prior to the 2016 election. Truthfully, I didn't think that that would be the outcome.

ZELENY (on camera): You didn't think Trump could win?

LUDWIG: Never. I like to think I'm pretty in tune, but I never saw it coming.

ZELENY (voice-over): Winning Ohio will be no small task for Democrats. While Barack Obama carried the state twice, Trump's eight- point victory over Hillary Clinton showed how deeply red Ohio can be. But the suburbs are changing.

Here in Westerville, Mitt Romney beat Obama 53 to 45 percent in 2012, but four years later, Clinton won 50 to 45, despite losing the state.

[07:15:05]

DAVID PEPPER, CHAIRMAN, OHIO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: There are areas of this state that only six and eight and ten years ago were reliably Republican, big population centers that are now blue, and that makes the starting point of the '20 election a lot closer from the get-go.

ZELENY: State Democratic Chairman Dennis Pepper said the party should select a nominee who appeals to a broad cross-section of voters.

But Jane Timken, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, believes Trump is in a strong position here. She says all of the Democratic candidates are too radical for Ohio.

JANE TIMKEN, CHAIRMAN, OHIO REPUBLICAN PARTY: Those messages don't really resonate in Ohio, and I don't think suburban voters are going to buy it.

ZELENY: But around kitchen tables like this, at least one thing has changed from 2016: the Trump presidency is motivating Democrats.

LUDWIG: I've talked to people who admitted they voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will not be doing so next time, so -- and they've always voted Republican.

ZELENY (on camera): Do you think that they're making a mistake by underestimating what is happening in your kitchen and in kitchens across Ohio?

PYSER: Oh, yes. Yes.

TIFFANY ROBERTS, OHIO VOTER: But don't tell them.

PYSER: Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So talking to so many voters, it is unclear who they would like to see as the nominee. There's a variety of opinions on that. But that is the question, of course, if Ohio is competitive next year, who wins the primary.

And John, of course on the debate stage tonight right here, Medicare for all, health care, other issues front and center.

So how the party goes, of course, will determine if this is a battleground state, but the Trump campaign thinks it is. There's a Women for Trump event right here in Ohio just hours before the Democratic debate tonight -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Very interesting. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

And of course, this is something sure to come up with the debate tonight, breaking news. Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, is speaking out about the controversy involving his connection with a Ukraine business. What he is saying, and we're going to get reaction from the head of the Democratic Party, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:21:28] BERMAN: All right. Moments ago, former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, broke his silence about the Ukraine whistle-blower controversy. This is what he told ABC News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- felt just a little bit in your gut like maybe this isn't a good idea to go and sit on the board of this --

BIDEN: I just said to you. I said to you in retrospect, I wish that my judgment --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the time you never -- it never -- you never thought, this might not look right?

BIDEN: You know what? I'm a human, and you know what? Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yes, but did I make a mistake based upon some unethical lapse? Absolutely not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: This is happening the morning of a Democratic debate in Ohio hosted by CNN and the "New York Times," so what role will this interview play?

Joining us now is Tom Perez. He is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Chairman, as always, a pleasure to have you with us. To what extent is this subject fair game --

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DNC: Good to be with you, John. Good to be partnering with you.

BERMAN: Is this subject -- to what extent is this subject fair game on that debate stage tonight?

PEREZ: Well, listen, the evidence is clear. This president used the threat of taxpayer-funded military aid to a foreign country to extort a foreign leader to dig up dirt and, make no mistake about it, dirt, lies -- There's no there there -- about a political opponent. That is an abuse of power, plainly and simply.

And the reason why you've seen support for impeachment go up so quickly across the country is that this is a straightforward abuse of power case. This is about accountability, and that is about that plainly and simply.

And the American people see that, not just Democrats. This isn't about right versus left. This is about right versus wrong, John, and what this president did to extort a foreign leader was wrong.

BERMAN: Does that mean you don't expect any of those Democrats on stage tonight to talk about what Hunter Biden himself described as poor judgment in his interview with ABC News?

PEREZ: Listen, I can't speak for what other people will say tonight. That's going to be up to all the candidates. I'm just speaking about the facts, and the fact of the matter is we have a president here who was engaged in an abuse of power, plainly and simply.

He wasn't calling up, you know, the foreign leader to say, hey, you need to -- you need to buy soybeans from American farmers, or you need to buy U.S. cars and then maybe we'll help you. No, you need to dig up dirt.

And again, these are lies. Provable lies about a political opponent, and that's what this is about. And that's why, again, the straightforwardness of this abuse of power.

I think the American people understand the need for accountability, and that is why you've seen public opinion shift so swiftly.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting --

PEREZ: Whether it comes up tonight, I expect this discussion will come up tonight.

BERMAN: Right.

PEREZ: But again, I think the facts are also very clear, John.

BERMAN: It's interesting to me that you brought up the president, what you call his abuse of power, I think, three or four times. I was trying to count. I lost count, because you used those words so many times.

The Biden campaign has been critical of the Democratic National Committee to an extent over the last few weeks for how you have responded to this. In a memo reported by the "New York Times," they said, "It's clear the RNC will stop at nothing to bolster their president. Will the DNC let them? They've largely been silent on the issue. Will they call out Trump for his abuses of power?"

You just did here four times. Is that in response to concerns from the Biden campaign?

[07:25:03]

PEREZ: We've been very consistent throughout. If you look at the record here, we were the first committee or entity to call on Facebook to stop putting these -- airing these lies on their platform, and I will call on them again. We've called on every other network. I applaud what CNN did.

We've been very, very clear that these are, in fact, lies, and I'm, frankly, exceedingly disappointed in Facebook. They say, well, this is above our pay grade. We're just a platform.

No, you're not. You have an obligation to have some investigation of whether something is true. You're not just a platform.

And if that's the position they continue to take, I think they're going to be subject to a lot of regulations down the road --

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman -- PEREZ: -- and it will be appropriate regulation down the road.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, the debate is tonight. We've got about 20 seconds left. I'm wondering what you think will be the key issue, not talking about this in the Biden or Ukraine or even impeachment, the key issue aside from that that might rise to prominence tonight?

PEREZ: I think it will be about broken promises. Democrats believe that health care is a right for all, and not a privilege for a few.

Donald Trump, in this state and in many other states, said, I'm going to save your health care, and he's doing just the opposite.

He said there's never going to be a plant closure. He said that here in Ohio and elsewhere, and you see the Chevy plant in Lordstown. You see so many other plant closures. The worst year for manufacturing and the auto industry since the great recession.

He promised that he'd take care of farmers, and there's a farm crisis here in Ohio and Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Democrats are fighting to make sure we have everybody's back on the issues that matter most, and that's what you're going to hear from all of our candidates. That unity of values around affordable health care for all, around an economy that works for everyone, not just a few at the top.

You know, around reducing gun violence. And here in Ohio, again, another tragic incident in Dayton. The president says afterward, yes, we ought to do something about background checks, and then he talks to the NRA, and he once again, does nothing.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman -- Mr. Chairman, the debate stage behind you looks beautiful. Thank you for being with us this morning.

PEREZ: Sure does.

BERMAN: We look forward to the event tonight.

You can watch tonight's Democratic presidential debate live from Ohio, 8 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, now this. Explosive new allegations. In the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, did "The National Enquirer" destroy or hide evidence to protect Donald Trump?

Ronan Farrow is here next to bring us the revelations in his new book.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END